Shaman Testutora; Grandma Tiger. The weretigress who brought her people out of Sarlona alive, fleeing the Inspired.
A legend of Aincrad. Who felt within her rights to drag Kirito in by the scruff of the neck like a too-curious cub. Asuna smiled, oddly warmed.
“I’ll be careful,” Kirito assured the shaman, bowing to take his leave. Lowered his voice as he gave Asuna an aside glance. “Why does everyone think I’m not careful?”
Asuna granted the weretigress her best curtsey. “You solo the front lines.”
The mobs that popped up outside of Snow Springs were mostly small but fast. Asuna took out the majority of them while Kirito mapped this part of the level all over again. “I need to talk to Argo and some of the mid-level guilds.” She skewered the second-to-last Shock Lizard in mid-leap with a simple Linear, listening to the scuffle and meep behind her, followed by the chime of dissolving polygons. “If the levels can change this much, we have to keep updating the maps. Or no one will be able to level up fast enough to join the clearers when we need them.”
“Huh. Good idea.”
He hadn’t drawn his sword. He hadn’t used darkfire; she’d have felt that magic unleashed. And he wasn’t even breathing hard. “How do you do that?”
There on cue, the innocent blink. “Do what?”
“The setting’s starting to look right.” Kirito stepped carefully between flowering pitcher plants, halting for a moment as something small and snaky scurried away from them. “This should be fed by the spring that goes underground in her cave. Now we should start going uphill.”
“Starting to? It doesn’t look the same?” Asuna followed in his footsteps; it was just a bit squooshy around here. “So it wasn’t just the lake that changed.”
“Heh. No.” Kirito smiled a bit, dodging a red-winged dragonfly bent on stuffing its mandibles with mosquitoes. “The cave we’re looking for used to be twenty-eight levels farther down.”
Asuna blinked away a drift of pollen. Shook her head, ears twitching. “Something from level twelve got moved here? How? Why?”
“Maybe a Dark Pack wizard wanted all the troublemakers in one place.”
“What Dark Pack-” Asuna cut herself off, realization trailing an icy finger down her spine. Kayaba.